25 Jul 2011
I spent most of this last week on vacation in the town of Seaside, Florida. This isn’t the first time I’ve vacationed here … it’s the 5th time. Once my wife and I had our daughter, we looked for a place to bring our family that wasn’t too far away and gave us the ability to eat, sleep and operate on our own schedule – something that is important to me having a relaxing time. But relaxing doesn’t mean sitting around doing nothing, for me it means getting to work at the speed of my choosing. I have mentioned on this site many, many times that architects (which I qualify) plan vacations around architectural destinations. What better place to visit that the birthplace of “New Urbanism”.
However, today I am not going to get into Seaside the very successful urban planning experiment. No, today I wanted to share with you one of my favorite buildings from Seaside. This is the appropriately and succinctly named ‘Seaside Chapel’ – designed by Scott Merrill from Merrill and Pastor Architects of Vero Beach, Florida. It was dedicated in October 2001 and is possibly the most important building at Seaside.
The chapel is non-denominational and all faiths are welcome to worship here. It has long been a source of frustration that I have never been in Seaside during a Sunday and as a result, have never been inside the building. I have been reduced to stalking around the perimeter and lurking outside the windows – I keep thinking that I’ll see someone inside and I’ll bang on the glass to have them open the doors and let me inside. Although I’m not sure that someone would want to let me inside considering that the look of excitement on my face could easily be mistaken for lunacy.
The building is very elegant and in keeping with the imagery that is so prevalent throughout the town of Seaside - understated, meticulous, and with great attention to detail. According to the AIA Awards jury,
“The Chapel has transformed the Town of Seaside from an experiment of New Urbanism into an amalgamated community, becoming the physical focal point of town and providing Seaside with a strong sense of place and coherence, as well as an icon of spiritual unity bonding the greater community…”
That might have been true at one time but since I have been there 5 times and have never ever seen it being used, I am going to respectfully disagree. I am not a particularly faithful person although I think buildings like this one serve an important role in any community … just the fact that it exists is significant. This land was donated for this purpose by the founders of Seaside (Robert and Daryl Davis) and I am very happy that they recognized the need for this building type to exist, instead of allowing this land to become another five multi-million dollar second homes.
I know this isn’t the greatest picture but I just had to try and capture the stars that dotted the sky. The house we rented this year was literally across the street from the chapel so I spent a considerable amount of time looking across the way at it. So one night, I walked outside with my camera on a tripod and with a 30 second exposure – I got this image.
This is looking up at the 68′ tall bell tower. Since it is a non-denominational chapel, there is no steeple since certain spiritual icons were left off the building.
This is the back of the chapel – also very cleanly detailed and ordered. There isn’t anthing back here – not even a foot path. The entire time I was back here I was wondering if there were “bugs of interest” I should be looking for as I tromped through knee-high grass and ground cover.
Signs of life and usage … I’ll let you wonder what sort of usage.
Part of the interior courtyard -
Yet another look up at the underside of the sofffit, catching a glimpse of the bell tower.
Take about 25 steps to the left and this was the view I had from the porch of the house I rented. I don’t care who you are – you might not like this building as much as I do, but you can’t deny it’s presence and purpose. Clean, simple, evocative and powerful – a wonderful building.